About Ocho

Gamer | Techie | Man - I'm a fan of MMOs, gaming, tech, physics, sociology, math, psychology, relationships, baseball, and theatre.

10 Star Trek Episodes to Watch for Agents of Yesterday

Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Star Trek

Note: This post first appeared on Sub-Cultured. Check it out and all the other awesome stuff posted on the site, like this review of I Am Setsuna (a game that does look pretty dang good).

—————————————————————————-

Star Trek Online’s Agents of Yesterday recently released and has been a callback to Star Trek’s origins on the year of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary.

One of the big reasons I’ve been playing Star Trek Online for years has been for it’s excellent stories. The main reason that I still really enjoy playing video games *at all* is the stories. Fun game mechanics are nice, yes, and the exploration, puzzles, progression, and graphics are also a plus, but for me the story is where it’s at. If a game doesn’t have a decent or even passable story attached to it, you most likely won’t find me playing it. I’ll even forsake a lot of the other qualities just for a better story.

I’ve also been a fan of Star Trek since my father and I use to watch Next Generation together in the early 90’s. The way the episodes would flow, where in the course of 45 minutes the exploration of the deep grey area between good and evil, between right and wrong, was so thorough that it created such a lasting impression on me that I will forever be a ‘Trekkie’. Not all episodes were winners, but when Star Trek got it right, they really got it right.

With Star Trek Online’s latest release of ‘Agents of Yesterday’, the game’s storyline takes many cues and paths from the episodes, and many cues from the original series. Here is a list of the top Star Trek episodes to watch to get the most out of STO’s latest expansion, presented in the best order as they refer in-game.

Obviously, Spoilers Ahead, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

The Galileo Seven – TOS, Season 1

A new character, created in the new 23rd century Federation faction, will find themselves soon after on the surface of Taurus II. This rocky, inhospitable planet was crash-landed on by Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and four other unlucky individuals. Soon after arrival a yellow-clad crewman (they weren’t always wearing red) takes a spear to the back thrown by a giant caveman-like creature.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Gorn, Arena

Oh, there *will* be Gorn.

Arena – TOS, Season 1

Arena is one of the most famous of all the original series episodes, so having an original series themed expansion and not including a reference to the episode would’ve been sacrilege. The lizard-like Gorn first appeared during this episode which had a beat-up Kirk hunting the surface of a mineral-rich planet for ways to defeat the rubber-suited menace. In Star Trek Online, the Federation returns once more to study the planet’s bounty.

Cold Front – Enterprise, Season 1

We take a step backwards in time, but forward in the line of show production to Enterprise. Captain Archer is really excited to get to do what Starfleet wanted the Enterprise to do: Explore. A bolt of energy hits the ship, but disaster is stopped by a lucky junction having been disconnected. As it turns out, luck has nothing to do with it. The character known as Daniels is introduced, a time traveling agent from the far-distant future, who informs Archer of the most convoluted storyline in all of Trek, the Temporal Cold War.

Operation: Annihilate! – TOS, Season 1

There are only two episodes in all of Trek that feature an exclamation point in the title, and ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ is one of them. The Deneva Colony has seemed to be taken over by a bout of mass insanity. When they reach the planet, they find saucer-like single-celled organisms have attacked. In Star Trek Online, the player’s ship is called to investigate Deep Space K-13, where a bout of mass insanity has also taken hold.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, Operation Annihilate

By far not the best of episodes. It was still in the age of rubber creatures which, shockingly, audiences didn’t find that scary.

Journey to Babel – TOS, Season 2

Th Enterprise is tasked with transporting a group of Federation diplomats to the Babel Conference, a meeting to determine whether to admit the Coridan system into the Federation. In the first episode of ‘Agents of Yesterday’ which features real time travel shenanigans, the player is taken onto the Enterprise itself.

The Tholian Web – TOS, Season 3

In ‘The Tholian Web’ the crew of the Enterprise are sent to search for their sister-ship, the USS Defiant. They find the ship adrift, with all hands on board deceased. Once more, it appears a bout of madness has caused all aboard to turn on each other, but this time it isn’t due to single-celled frisbees. The episode introduces the xenophobic and crystal spider-like Tholians. In Star Trek Online, the crew of the player’s ship finds the Defiant with all crew still alive as they once more encounter the Tholians.

Captain’s Holiday – Next Generation, Season 3

The entire Star Trek Online story arc ‘Future Proof’ hinges on this one episode. In Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard finds himself so stressed out that not even a cup of hot Earl Grey can help. Picard takes a vacation to the pleasure planet Risa for some much needed R&R. There he encounters a Ferengi, two time traveling aliens, a treasure hunter, and their target: the Tox Uthat, a weapon capable of destroying stars.

Future Tense – Enterprise, Season 2

Captain Archer’s Enterprise comes across a ship very similar to the Doctor’s TARDIS, a ship from the far future that is bigger on the inside. Inside they find a long deceased body, one who’s genetic makeup contains many elements of many different races. None of those races are Time Lord, however. Right when things start getting strange, both the Suliban, a shape-changing race, and the Tholians show up to attempt to recover the ship for themselves.

The Changing Face of Evil – Deep Space Nine, Season 7

In one of the final episodes of Deep Space Nine, at the height of the Dominion War, the Breen, a cold-loving warlike race that has aligned themselves with the Dominion, succeed where many others have failed. They successfully launch an attack on Earth and damage Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco and, just for kicks, wreck the Golden Gate Bridge. It must’ve been for kicks because one would assume bridges have become antiques when flying shuttles and teleportation become the norm for transportation.

Star Trek, Star Trek Online, Agents of Yesterday, NCC-1701-J, Enterprise J

The NCC-1701-J. Yes, it’s canon.

Azati Prime – Enterprise, Season 3

Finally, in the midst of the Temporal Cold War arc of Enterprise, the crew of Archer’s ship finds themselves investigating the multi-species Xindi’s construction of a weapon capable of doing serious damage to Earth. Captain Archer decides to pilot a suicide mission to destroy the weapon, but is suddenly transported 400 years to the future by Temporal Agent Daniels to the final battle of the war against the Sphere Builders in the Temporal Cold War. They arrive on board the Enterprise-J, a much flatter ship than most of the Enterprises that have come before.

But That’s Not All

These ten episodes are far from the only ones referenced in the Agents of Yesterday expansion. More include TOS’s ‘Doomsday Machine’ and ‘Mirror, Mirror’, Next Generation’s ‘The Enemy’, Deep Space Nine’s ‘Once More Unto the Breach’, and Voyager’s ‘Year of Hell’. Also, the entire Temporal Cold War arc certainly wouldn’t hurt: Enterprise’s ‘Broken Bow’, ‘Cold Front’, ‘Detained’, ‘Two Days and Two Nights’, ‘Shockwave Pt 1 and 2’, ‘Future Tense’, ‘The Expanse’, ‘Carpenter Street’, ‘Azati Prime’, ‘Zero Hour’, ‘Storm Front Pt 1 and 2’, and ‘Harbinger’.

Live Long and Prosper.

To Write or Not to Write?

Casual Aggro, Dungeons and Dragons, Chronicles of Mystara, Paladin

That is the question. Well, it’s the question that’s been on my mind for such a casual blogger like myself, anyway.

I started Casual Aggro back in April of 2012 essentially as a way for me to take my hobby of gaming to the next level. I found myself in comments sections writing tiny novels as reactions to articles. You know the type. Not the ones that were being very critical, or trolling, but the ones that are just walls of text. Even if I was making a solid point, something others might want to read and comment on itself, I was putting a lot of effort into something that was mostly being passed over. The people seeing it had already read an article by a paid professional, why would they read my similar-sized (or sometimes bigger), amateur response?

So I joined the very first Newbie Blogger Initiative, sponsored by Syp the Mighty, and started this little page as a way to explore my hobby from a new perspective. But from the very beginning, I felt like an impostor. Here I was, some random MMO player, who didn’t even have that special of a perspective, just another joe-shmoe who thought that what he said could even compare a little bit to those who did this for a living. And in a way, even attempting to be on the same level as paid professionals felt like I was somehow insulting their profession.

At the same time, I had no realistic aspirations that I would ever be on their level. I already have a day job. I focused my education on math and science, not writing. I have, aside from the standard classes most universities force every student to take, zero experience writing. I would’ve much rather sat down and worked on a physics problem that took up three pages than write a three page paper. Because I felt like such an impostor my static friction, if you will, was much higher than I believed it would ever be. Just starting the ball rolling became a daily fight. And the days that I lost that fight, which were most days, I felt awful about it.

No Time to Explain, Existentialism

Basically this.

But I still wrote. Not every day like some other bloggers, and sometimes not every week. But I still put something out when I can. Some nights, especially after a long day, I felt like relaxing the way I already knew how. By playing, you know, games. So some nights it became a fight to play games or to write about them, and guess which usually won out.

When I did write, the reactions were… well, not exactly what I thought they’d be. I was writing to further myself, explore my hobby, and improve my own skills, sure, but when you put hours into a post, when you try your best, and get back in return only a handful of eyeballs? The return on investment seems not worth it. Seeing others celebrating hitting milestones that I knew I could never reach just hit me harder, and made me feel a little more alone.

Every month, though, is a new month and this is not just your standard month, this is Blaugust! The month of the Blog! So, let’s try this again, yeah? I’ve been picked up by the all-around geekery goodness site, Sub-Cultured, to be a regular contributor. Now being part of team the amount of friction already feels less and is so far significantly different than being alone. The success of my own site I never cared that much about, but the success of the group isn’t just about me, but the team’s success. And isn’t teamwork what it’s all about? Isn’t teamwork why we play the MMO genre in the first place? In fact, I’ve already put up a review of Star Trek Online’s new Agents of Yesterday to the site!

This explains so much, Octodad, Dadliest Catch

Or, it at least explains a bit of my absence, anyway.

So, if you’re reading this, and I sincerely thank you for still hanging around despite my lack of posts, maybe throw Sub-Cultured onto your Feedly as well. Expect posts from all around the world of geek, from comic books to television, from conventions to gaming, from current news to opinion pieces and all points in between. Who knows, you may even see little ol’ me hitting up a convention or two on *gasp* an official capacity!

But don’t expect it to be cultured, expect it to be Sub-Cultured.

// Ocho

 

P.S. – Alright, I just made up that tagline and I made myself groan when I wrote it. Still, though. Check it out. And as usual, a big shout out to Belghast the Prolific for once more throwing his leader hat in the ring for Blaugust. May it be a fruitful month of posts for all.

P.P.S – Now, to maybe work on getting myself onto a podcast or something of the like… I should really redesign this place, too. Maybe a new coat of paint, maybe a new door, couple of throw pillows… we’ll see.

 

Tales from the Backlog: Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn

If you’ve been paying attention to my site, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, but I tend to play two types of games: MMOs and Old-School. I will occasionally boot up a non-MMO game that has been made in the past 5 years, but that’s a rare event for me. I’m generally immune to the rush that I must play the absolute newest stuff. My rationale is that if it’s claiming to be really good now, it’ll also be really good in a few years, too. The benefits of this thinking are obvious: when I do go to purchase the game, it’ll be at a steep discount, bug fixes will have made the game more stable, technology improvements mean I’ll be able to play at the highest graphic settings, and I’ll still be getting the same quality story and gameplay as if I bought it on day 1. Also, the lens of time better shows which games are actually considered great games than the day one impressions do. Good games are like good wine, they last and seem to improve with age.

However, when it comes to *really* old games, sometimes the lens of time is tinted with too much rose-coloring. One question I find I ask myself all the time is were the games I played when I was a kid, the games that have shaped and molded my gaming interests today, were they any good? If I go back and play them now, will I still find them enjoyable? One such game series I remember having a very hard time with when I was younger, but I was still very enamored with them. Namely, the SSI Advanced Dungeons and Dragons “Gold Box” series of games based on the Dragonlance universe. And since I’m a fan of playing games in order I set on to find and play the first game in the series, Champions of Krynn.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us on this one, it’s opulent and not just cracked stone walls. Opulent.

Abandoned, But Not Forgotten

When looking for the game, my first attempt is to always find a legit copy first, unless doing so is price or sanity prohibitive. For example, the game seems pretty easy to find on Ebay, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I owned a PC that actually had a 3.5″ or 5.25″ floppy drive drive on it. SSI, the maker of the game was acquired by Mindscape in 1994, and eventually was acquired by Ubisoft in 2001, who retired the brand. In fact, you can’t even find Champions of Krynn on the Internet Archive, although you will find the game’s sequels. A 25 year old game, you’ll forgive me, but I gave up on paying for it and instead went to my favorite site for the games that have lost their respective owners, Abandonia. To make up for it, I’ll make a donation later to one of my favorite charities, and maybe one to Abandonia as well as soon as my browser informs me that Paypal isn’t being attacked anymore (there… didn’t take long). Karma and I have a funny relationship and I don’t want to upset that balance.

At this point, I’m pretty proficient with using DOSBox, so getting the game to run was pretty easy. If you want to check out the Options file I use, which I have tweaked over time, feel free. And after loading up, then spent the rest of the night trying to build a party based on a version of Dungeons and Dragons that was out of style by the time I entered high school. I decided to stick with your standard party makeup of pure classes, and then balanced out races as appropriate. For naming, I crowdsourced by sending out a tweet, and taking the first people to reply or favorite the post, just to make it a little more social.

Champions of Krynn

THAC0?! That should really say “Rocket Science”.

The Party of Champions

First we have our Lawful Good Half-Elf Knight, Windcaller. The Knight is an interesting class, mostly for a mechanic you just don’t see in games anymore, a class that will straight up give away all the money they find. Knights have taken a vow of poverty, and as such will donate any money you hand them as soon as you get back to town. Giving away loot? What nonsense is this! The trick is, of course, to not hand them any monies. However, gold doesn’t seem to be that important so far, so keeping it from him is kind of mean. Donate away, my friend. The tradeoff is being able to cast Cleric spells at higher levels.

Next, we have our Neutral Good Mountain Dwarf Fighter, JerseyJim. Jim’s a close friend of mine so no offense on the Dwarf part, I needed a dwarf, and having all humans is rather boring. Fighters seem to be… well… Fighters. Strong on the front lines, and hard to take down… sort of. Jim seems to be one of the first ones knocked down being right on the front lines and so far the game seems to employ a lot of cheap one-hit methods. Anyone in magical Sleep or Hold are taken down in one shot, for example. One.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Crit by a Rat?!

Then we have our Chaotic Good Qualinesti Elf Ranger, Royalite. Rangers are strong melee as well, but also decent at range. They seem to be very versatile, and Royalite is happy with being a ranger, so it’s all good. I have no idea what the difference between elves are, there is also a Silvanesti elf, so maybe it’s just character flavor. Having elves keeps you from being one-shot, as elves are resistant to sleep and charm… but elves, though. You never want too many of them.

Then there’s our Neutral Good Kender Cleric, Syl. Clerics are an absolute necessity. When resting, the only way to heal is to use the Cleric’s spells, and the game calculates the time when resting for the Cleric to memorize a heal spell and cast it, and rememorize it. Thankfully, it does this automatically with the Fix command, but you’re vulnerable to wandering monsters while resting, so it’s tricky. On top of that, Clerics can charm and hold, cheap tactics, but effective for one-hit takedowns. Syl didn’t reply to the tweet, but I was listening to a podcast of Battle Bards and Syl was praising her Lalafell in Final Fantasy XIV, so I decided to make her our diminutive Kender in homage. Kenders are a race that have an infectious charm and are good at finding trouble, and Syl was happy with that.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us. They’re evil.

Then we have our True Neutral Human Thief, Grilledcheese. Thieves are very squishy, being held to Leather Armor only. They make up for it by being able to backstab, finding traps and doors, and leveling super quick. Oh, leveling is interesting. Leveling can only take place if we return to an outpost, which isn’t that bad, but each class has a completely different leveling table! With the same amount of experience, a level 5 Thief is only a level 3 Knight. So you have to keep track of each characters experience individually as it won’t tell you if they’re ready to level, either. Excel spreadsheets FTW.

Finally, we have our Lawful Neutral Human Red Mage, BC Jayson. Jayson’s a big Ultima fan, so I hope he doesn’t mind having a D&D character. Cross-geekery, you know how it is. Mages are as you would expect: super squishy, but bring out the big guns. Mostly Sleep spells are used at lower levels, sadly, but they knock out up to 4 enemies at a time and then a follow up long range dart provides the instant-kill. So cheap, but still effective.

Champions of Krynn

Thankfully the “Journal” isn’t a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, as this could’ve got really awkward real quick.

First Impressions, Very Rosy

Champions of Krynn is sooooo old school, though. Maybe *too* old school. First, the game doesn’t hold any punches and every fight that is scripted as part of the story is a party strength check. If you can’t beat it, well then you might have to try again with different strategy (or luck), rest up and choose different spells, or level, and the baddies will use every cheap trick they have. So saving all the time and loading again are common practice. On top of that, the game allows you to lower the difficulty, but doing so nets you less experience, so playing on Easy eventually under-levels your party. As any other game, the middle difficulty is the way to go.

On top of that, to save game size (3.5″ disks, don’t forget) and to have a form of DRM, every time there is an important plot point instead of just telling you the story, the game points you to it’s physical Journal and tells you which entry to read. You could read all the entries and spoil the story, but there are false-entries posted throughout the Journal, just to trip you up. It’s fascinating the methods like this developers used when their resources were limited.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Just kidding. It was *everyone’s* fault this time. Falling asleep in the middle of combat and all.

So as of this writing, I have cleared the first level of the first dungeon. You’d think this would be a quick endeavor but, oh no, this has taken quite a few sessions already. Leveling in D&D is a rare event, but each character has leveled a few times, leading me to wonder how long this game actually is? Is it only just a couple of dungeons or will this take me forever to play?

I’m not sure I’ll stick to it to see the end, but I do enjoy a good D&D session, so you never know. Those graphics, though. The best part of the game is easily the strategic combat. The story seems very basic and pandering, though, and the graphics were considered dated even for 1990, so I’m not sure if the combat alone will hold my interest. We’ll see, though, it *is* classic D&D, afterall.

//Ocho   

P.S. – Also, I want to give a big shoutout to Xander of Holosuite Media fame for hosting Casual Aggro as part of their blogger linkfest. Holosuite Media has a ton of great people and great podcasts to check out, which I highly suggest you do. I especially am fond of Beyond the Veil, their podcast on The Secret World, but they have podcasts for all kinds of games.

P.P.S. – After the massive traffic spike I had yesterday, thanks to a popular developer RT’ing my post on Ultima 7 and EA, I was kicking myself that my blogroll hasn’t been updated since, well, since this blog was created. I have went through and updated it to a list of 25 glorious and amazing sites, which you should definitely check out.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 : Giving Thanks

The exceptional Rowan over at his corner of the web, (For the World is Hollow and) I Have Touched The Sky, has declared the week from March 28th till April 4th Developer Appreciation Week! I know I’m a little late to the party, this being April 4th and all, but I still wanted to say my peace before it expired. In this collective hobby of ours, that which we pour a great amount of our free time, that which encompasses a massive portion of our hard drives, and that which takes over our favorite news site preferences, we wouldn’t be where we are and our lives would be totally different were it not for game developers.

Gaming in general has taken over our collective consciousness. There isn’t a single person I know, not a single one, that hasn’t at some time been heavily invested in some video game at some time. This has led to a staggering amount of sales, and made arguably one of the biggest industries in the world, surpassing both the movie and music industry. And, I mean, I work in a pretty large industry myself, but there aren’t fans who consider my every move and what I’m working on to be of newsworthy importance like we do with the developers of the games we play.

Game developers are everyday people like you and me that get paid salaries similar to you and me, and yet they are our celebrities and we hold them to an almost superhuman status. We discuss ad nauseum what they say, hyper analyze every word they say, all because it affects how we spend our free time and how we open our wallets in pursuit of our hobby. And they take on this celebrity status willingly! To be honest, that’s a level of stress on a whole other level that not all of us would be able to handle.

So, to all of the game developers out there, thank you. Thank you for not only producing all of the fantastic games that we use to make our free time a lot less boring, but also for putting up with the height of the pedestal that we put you on. Thank you for producing quality artwork, for spending an unheard of amount of production hours for something that a number of us will skip 90% of just so we can hold it above our peers and berate it for “not having enough content”. Thank you for putting yourself out there, yourself personally, your life, just to develop a connection with us gamers, those that will praise you in one breath and then throw shade the next over some nerf. Thank you for being simultaneously both our superheroes and showing great humility, for putting up with us fans at our best and at our worst.

Thank you to the developers of the Ultima series past and present for starting my love of gaming, Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, Paul Neurath, Starr Long, and many others. Thank you.

To the developers of the fantastic MMO The Secret World past and present, Ragnar Tornquist, Joel Bylos, Joshua “Scrivnomancer” Doetsch, Romain “Tilty” Amiel, Laurie “Sezmra” Payne, and many others. Thank you.

To the developers of Star Trek Online past and present, a game which I have considered my “home MMO” for many years, Daniel Stahl, Craig Zinkievich, Christine Thompson, Al “Captain Gecko” Rivera, Nick “Tacofangs” Duguid, Thomas “The Cryptic Cat” Marrone, and many others. Thank you.

 

To the developers of the multitude of other games that have shaped the way I play and enjoy games over the years, Jane Jensen, Colin Johanson, Ree Soesbee, Chris Roberts, Sid Meier, Jon Van Canegham, and many, many, many, many, many, many others…

Thank you.

//Ocho

The Elder Scrolls Online, Still Not Quite Getting it Right

Elder Scrolls Online

I’m picky. This should not come as a surprise to anybody by now, I’m very finicky about the way that I play the games I do. What this leads to, though, is a bunch of games that are just not designed for my playstyle, and that’s completely fine! That’s what makes gaming a great hobby, that not every game has to be made for everybody. However, when a game you really think and hope is made for you turns out not to be, it can be quite disappointing. This is kind of how I feel after trying out The Elder Scrolls Online.

Now, the last time I played Elder Scrolls Online, it was during the game’s beta, and I commented how I liked the look of the game, but felt that it just didn’t capture the “feel” of Elder Scrolls, that feeling of total freedom in a huge explorable world, chock full of so much lore that a full playthrough only scratches the surface. But I’m not one to judge a game fully in beta, especially one I *really* hope to like. So when Elder Scrolls Online flipped the switch to the buy-the-game-and-then-you-can-play-it model, I jumped on board with both feet.

Elder Scrolls Online, Fishing

I’m fishing! I have no idea why, but I can fish!

 

I should’ve trusted my initial instincts, though, which so far have been pretty spot-on. I jumped back into TESO, and due to streamers like the awesome CrazMadSci, I was pretty pumped to do so. There are immediate differences, the intro changed and dumps you right into your head city. I created a Redguard character in the Daggerfall Covenant, because Hammerfell is right next to High Rock, and after the intro I was dropped right into the city of Daggerfall! This is good. This feels open. You have the *option* of heading to the two intro islands or not, and options are good. Options are Elder Scrolls. Heck, in pretty much every TES game I’ve ever played I initially run off into a random direction, and when I get pretty powerful finally remember that “oh yeah, there’s a main story I could follow, too!”  Elder Scrolls is about options, not about linearity.

But it was also during the character creator that I found my first “huh?” moment. When creating a Redguard, I found that I could make their skin color… well… white. This immediately struck me as wrong. There aren’t any white Redguards! There could be light-brown skinned Redguards, sure, but not white. But… MMO. I get it. Also, a human race can join the Aldmeri Dominion? Generally, the only race other than elves that would be allowed into the Aldmeri Dominion are khajiit, because the high elves have basically tricked the khajiit over and over again over the millennia. To see *any* other race that’s not an elf take the Emperor’s throne would cause a reaction, and yet, human races can *join* the Dominion?! This makes no sense. But… MMO. I get it. It’s a bit of fracturing the lore to fit the game … it’s just too bad the lore is a tenet of the series… but whatever.

Elder Scrolls Online

Stros M’Kai, we meet again.

 

The skipping of the intro Islands, though? It lies, it’s not really an option. On the intro islands are collectible Skyshards that, if ignored, mean less skill points for your character. It’s an illusion of choice. Sure, you *could* not do them, but then you set yourself at a disadvantage with less skill points at your level until you come back to play them. So, fine, I did them. But I wasn’t happy about it.

My character sits at level 12 now, and making my way through Glenumbra from one quest chain ride leading right into the next quest chain ride (Grrrrr. It’s crazy, actually. I just finished up a quest chain to help rid a giant tree of… evil, I guess, and what did they tell me but “Oh! Someone stopped by while you were helping us! You should go find and help them!” This is about as far from options as one could get.) and I’ve been building him into what I love playing in Elder Scrolls, or pretty much any classless game that will allow me to, a leather-wearing, mace-and-shield wielding sneaking powerhouse that backs up his mace with healing magic. I’m almost ready for the first dungeon, I think, but when I see in chat people ask about DPS or tank or healing classes, I’m really not sure what I would fall into. DPS, as my armor gives me crit bonuses, I think? I use a shield, have taunt abilities, and heal myself, so maybe tank? I can heal others pretty well, too, so healer? I… have no idea, really. I’m all 3? Been pretty successful so far soloing, no problem keeping myself alive and beating down the enemy, but classifying myself in “standard” MMO terms? No idea.

And thus, if I can’t classify myself then others will judge me, as MMO players do. In fact, they already have a few times. The first time I tried to group up for the first dungeon I was *kicked out* of the group for my build. My DPS isn’t on par with pure-DPS players, my healing doesn’t stack up to healers, and I can’t tank like tanks can. Am I screwing myself over by not sticking to a trope? Basically, even though I’m playing the way I want, it’s quite possible I’m playing “wrong”. Any other Elder Scrolls game, I’m an unstoppable powerhouse and I have a blast. Here? I’m a noob, I’m a scrub. Not exactly a feeling that makes me want to log in.

Elder Scrolls Online

I have my mace, I have my shield, I’m wearing my leather. Come at me… nature!

 

It’s not all bad, though. Take a look at some of these screenshots! The game is drop dead gorgeous. Also, the quests themselves? Fascinating and well written stuff! Though not adding much to the overall story, they are quite Elder Scrollsy tableaus and are fun. Also, the few choices that I’ve made seem to have made differences. At the end of the Betnikh island chain, I pissed off the Captain of the ship I was sailing on so much that she kicked me off! She might’ve kicked me off anyway, again another illusion, but the choices *feel* pretty hefty, about as much heft as you can have in an MMO, I guess.

I don’t feel like these positives make up for the negatives, though. So once more I’m holding on to my initial assessment: The Elder Scrolls Online, though a very pretty WoW clone in it’s own right, does not live up to it’s Elder Scrolls pedigree. It’s too linear, it doesn’t respect and breaks it’s own hardcore lore just because, and they lie to the player that they can truly play the way they want to. If anything, playing TESO has made me want to research the lore a lot more, and even has given me cravings to jump back into the previous single player games!

Elder Scrolls Online

Dude, look at this place. Ballin’.

 

 

I may still level to cap, anyway, just because doing so might convince me to change my mind. I’m hoping it does, just because I hate being so disappointed with a game that labels itself as Elder Scrolls.

//Ocho

 

The King of the Underworld is Exploration

Ultima Underworld

Chalk another game off my backlog, I just completed Ultima Underworld and I must say it was much more than the game I was expecting. Sometimes when the nostalgia bug bites, you head back to an older game or two, and they just don’t hold up. It’s not as good as you remember it being, the graphics are just too dated to enjoy it, or times have changed so much that the flow of the game is totally opposed to today’s standards. Ultima Underworld, though, was more of a look into the future from the past.

Did I forget to mention that you could also play musical instruments in Underworld? Yup, you totally could. Not only that, but at one point it became integral to the main quest. Fishing, too. The amount of features stuffed into this one game, a game who this month is turning 23 years old, is absolutely staggering. Not only did the game hold up well over time, it held up well enough for me to play a complete runthrough of the game without even wanting to divert my attention elsewhere.

Ultima Underworld

I should… call Origin to receive a personal congratulations?! I wonder if any one of the old Origin employees or anyone at EA would honor this.

The best feature of Underworld, hands down, is it really nailed that feeling of exploration. The storyline was bare at best, and revolved around saving a maiden and finding a handful of particular items, using clues given by the NPCs you met. Finding them is what drove you forward, and every item you needed was just down one more level tucked into a far corner somewhere or held by some unsuspecting NPC, and all you had to do was find it. Around any corner could be a monster that would slap you around, a friendly face, a pile of treasure, a piece of lore, a freaking game of Pac-Man, a talking door, a developer homage, lava and waterfalls, a platform puzzle, etc. In other words, Ultima Underworld rewarded handsomely the person who explored every nook and cranny.

Ultima Underworld, Pac-Man

So I’m to collect these blue orbs as I run around this maze that’s filled with different colored ghosts. Sure, that sounds perfectly reasonable.

And not a single drop of procedural generation was used. The only randomness seemed to come from periodic monster spawns. After clearing a level occasionally you would meet a random monster, and these either didn’t happen often, or happened and they mixed in so well that they weren’t that noticeable. They didn’t use random encounters as an experience crutch, though, as is commonly found in a metric ton of other games. Everything was on purpose. But even with those rails, it felt like the rails didn’t exist.

Werit, another Star Trek Online player, makes a couple great points about the topic of exploration. If “exploration” is made procedurally generated, it doesn’t “feel” like you’re really exploring. It instead feels like you’re traveling down the highway and seeing yet another rest stop. A few restaurants, maybe a quirky gift shop, bathrooms, and that’s about it. If all you have to look forward to with more exploration is yet another rest stop, it doesn’t feel that fulfilling. And yet, Star Trek Online players, like many other players, are clamoring for more exploration!

Ultima Underworld really nailed what games today are still having problems trying to emulate. The Elder Scrolls series, I think, has come the closest to that feeling of rewarding exploration, where you could pick any direction and find rewarding adventure. That’s the reason why Skyrim has sold an almost mind-boggling amount of units. Rewarding exploration is what players really want. It is also why The Elder Scrolls Online didn’t fare so hot on release, their rails were showing too much.

Ultima Underworld, Warren Spector

A spectre named Warren, a not-so-subtle nod to Warren Spector. Wonder why he’s upset, though? Maybe the whole ‘ghost’ thing has something to do with it.

Not many younger players these days can stomach a game that has such dated graphics, no matter how good it is. Ultima Underworld, though, felt like listening to good classic rock. Different from today’s music, both in structure and style, but the soul never changes.

Playing Ultima Underworld evoked feelings like listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. You know that what you’re experiencing is from a different time period, but that does nothing to diminish the genius that went into producing it.

//Ocho

P.S. – By the way, mark it down. On March 2nd, 2015 the Internet was won by Ocho.

Ultima Underworld, Richard Garriott, Congratulations

P.S. – Supporting the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter for me was a no brainer. It’s being produced by the same designer, Paul Neurath, someone who obviously knows what’s up. Their biggest hurdle, I believe, will be in topping what was an industry-changing game. No small feat.

P.P.S.- Here are links to my other two writeups on Underworld: My initial writeup, My mid-game writeup.

Ultima Underworld, Moongate

The whole Pink Floyd analogy was a little more apt, too. The run after the final encounter is a little… trippy.

Leaping Lizardmen! Heading Deeper into the Underworld

Ultima Underworld

Bica, yeshor’click! Remember in my previous post how I mentioned that Ultima Underworld really holds up, despite the fact the game is over 20+ years old? I really wasn’t kidding, it holds up really well. I’ve been playing for about a week now, and I’m pretty hooked. The more I play, the more I think this game was truly ahead of it’s time.

Since I’ve been playing for a while, I have a greater grasp on the whole experience. Previously I mentioned features such as: lighting, food and hunger mechanics, platform jumping, swimming, melee and ranged combat, magic, hiding, faction-based NPCs, thieving, trading and reputation, armor and weapon degradation, sandbox style gameplay, and an in-game map with the ability to add player-created notes. All of this definitely exists. But then throw into it even more features like Minecraft style crafting (use an ear of corn over a fire, and you get popcorn; use a rock hammer on rocks to create sling stones; etc.), simple but interesting quests, and multiple large and diverse levels to explore, and I can easily see why this game took the industry by storm. 1992!

 

I’m not being that greatly challenged, though. I remember when I was younger Ultima Underworld being downright daunting, but once I followed the User’s Guide and found stuff like a resurrection mechanic, and learned the magic and advancement system a little better (the Light and Create Food spell are downright necessities), the real challenge of the game comes down to simple inventory management, as the amount you can carry around with you is very small. But then I found that items don’t disappear. If I find a random corner of a level and drop a few pieces of armor I’ve been lugging around, I can come back days later and it will still be there. So even then, inventory management isn’t the end of the world.

Ultima Underworld

Die ghost! Wait… how does that work? Die… again?

 

 

Let me give you an example of one of the interesting quests, though. Now remember, this is Ultima, so there is no such thing as a quest log. All quests are dialogue driven, and nothing will point you where you need to go. On the 3rd level, I came across a race of lizardmen. Communicating with them, though, was a little… tricky. The lizardmen have their own separate language, you see. So, when talking to them, I mostly just apologized to them that I had no idea what they were saying. If this were any newer game, I would either believe I wasn’t supposed to know what they were saying, or that I would learn some ability and magically be able to understand them. ‘Click, not here.

I came across a human prisoner behind a set of bars in the lizardmen holdings and thought “Awesome. Here is where I learn the ability to talk to these guys.” The prisoner was mute. So on one side we have a prisoner who can’t speak, and the other a language we don’t understand. However, through descriptive charades, the prisoner let us know that, indeed, he knew the lizardmen language and would teach it to me if I agreed to help release him. I had to bring the words to him, though. The process was to talk to a lizardman, and write down a whole bunch of words, then take them back to the prisoner to play charades with him and continue like that until I had a firm grasp of the language. Once I did so, I was then able to communicate with all the other lizardmen! It came out that the prisoner had stolen food and attacked one of the lizardmen, and was sentenced to be executed. He would be pardoned, though, if I gave the lizardmen a whole bunch of food. It’s left up to the character, really. I decided to free him, but I still don’t feel great about that decision. I did keep my end of the bargain, though.

Ultima Underworld, Sseetharee

I can fully understand this now. Think I can add Thepa to my CV?

 

Overall, the main quest revolves around finding the kidnapped daughter of the local Baron. However, once entering the Abyss, it’s found to be more complex than that (thankfully). Through dream communication, you learn that she was kidnapped for a more malicious purpose, and the whole of Britannia is in peril. Of course it is. From what exactly, I’m not sure yet. Sseth, you need to find the Baron’s daughter, but you also need to collect eight different artifacts strewn throughout the Abyss. Again, the why isn’t quite clear yet, but as per the Ultima ethos, these artifacts are representations of the eight Britannian virtues and they can be anywhere and be anything. It’s even quite possible I’ve stumbled on a few already and I’m hoping I didn’t discard any of them in a random corner somewhere.

I have so far collected three artifacts, though, and have completed my exploration of the 4th level. I also feel pretty powerful at this point, and not a lot can stand under the onslaught of my mace. Come at me, Abyss!

//Ocho

P.S. – It looks like Ultima Ascendant has made their Kickstarter goal! Sweet. Can’t wait to give that a shot, too. But I have to say, to top the original 20+ year old game might take a little more effort than one would think.

I’m More Confused About What Crowfall Is Now That Their Kickstarter Launched

The Kickstarter for Crowfall, an MMO in development, just started yesterday. Taking a look at the Kickstarter advertising for the game, though, has left me more confused about what this game is trying to be. From news articles like those found on the new MassivelyOP.net, voxels, destructive environments, and strategy will be the general focus of the game, but the fundraising pitch makes it sound like it’s including a lot more than that. “It’s like Game of Thrones meets Eve Online” reads a tagline on the fundraising page. I’m reminded, though, of a lot of other games when you start going through the feature list.

One of the game’s shining mechanics seems to be that game locations will periodically reset. It appears that there will be two main areas for players to run around in, the “Eternal Kingdoms” and the “Campaign Worlds”. The “Eternal Kingdoms” seems to be where players will set up their main bases of permanent operation. Guilds will presumably be able to build castles and fortresses, and these estates will be around indefinitely. I’m thinking similar to Landmark here. Landmark with possible PvP focus, too, not just a building simulator.

The “Campaign Worlds”, on the other hand, will be the real battlegrounds of the game and will only be around for limited periods of time, until the resources are gathered and your side comes out victorious or not, at which point you return back to the Eternal Kingdoms. So these are like matches then, matches that take a while to complete but that do have a set “win” condition. Win conditions like A Tale in the Desert but more violence? You would be able to collect your spoils and bring them back to the Eternal Kingdoms to improve your character and holdings, though, so maybe not like ATiTD. Kind of feeling like it’s approaching Guild Wars 2 style World vs World a bit, but with actual win conditions instead of just time. In fact, the action combat appears to be very GW2-esque as well.

So maybe the tagline should be “Guild Wars 2’s WvW meets A Tale in the Desert meets Landmark”? I mean, that’s not as badass sounding as “Game of Thrones meets Eve Online” (both very “hardcore” IPs), but it does help me visualize it better. But then they throw this in there

“The beginning of each Campaign is like the first round of Civilization: players are dropped into a harsh environment, surrounded by Fog-of-War. The Worlds are filled with deadly monsters, haunted ruins, abandoned quarries… and the most dangerous predator of all, other players.

Craft weapons, scavenge armor, secure a stronghold, forge alliances and conquer the World.”

So… like H1Z1? Are the Campaign Worlds more survival-focused, maybe? This makes it sound like they’ll have a scavenger, band of survivors feel to them, where you battle not just the environment, but also other players to achieve the win conditions. No zombies, though. Well, maybe. These Campaign Worlds are slowly falling, entropy having it’s way with them, and the “Hunger” seems to be a driving factor in that. The Hunger seems to be the game’s main antagonist, a relentless, singularly focused enemy without remorse or empathy. Like the Borg, or… zombies. A rose by any other name.

But then they say they’re throwing in a heavy focus of strategy as well when they say “A seamless blend of an MMO with a large-scale Strategy game!” When mixed with PvP, “strategy” gaming is very reminiscent of MOBAs. Seeing as how MOBAs are wildly successful at the moment, I could see where they would also attempt this avenue for development as well.

So, then “Guild Wars 2 WvW meets A Tale in the Desert meets Landmark meets MOBAs meets H1Z1!” It certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? This is why I don’t work in advertising.

At it’s base, though, it sounds like the most important aspects will be Guilds, Territory, Crafting, and PvP. Doesn’t sound like it’d be up my alley, only because my jump-in-jump-out playstyle doesn’t mesh well with territory holdings and PvP focus, which is the realm of more dedicated players.

So although maybe it’s right now not sounding like it’d be for me, it does sound like it’s something fresh and really pushing the boundaries. So I give it a lot of respect, it’s trying new avenues of gameplay with systems that are relatively familiar, and combining them to create this new species of MMO. That is awesome.

Tons of time left to go, and it looks like hitting their $800,000 goal really won’t be a problem. So if Crowfall sounds like it would be a nice addition to the stable of games you’re already playing, go check it out.

//Ocho

– So what do you think? Does it remind you of any other games as well? Is this the pattern we should expect for the evolution of the MMO genre, combining traits of games already played to make something new? Do you think I’m wrong and “Shut up, Ocho, it’s Eve Online meets Game of Thrones like they said! Jeez! It’s not that confusing, ya noob!”

– All images used in this post are linked from the Crowfall Kickstarter page and are not my own screenshots.

Onwards, Into the Stygian Abyss!

Ultima Underworld

My last few posts have been a little… heavy handed. I go through waves, I’ve found. A few posts of pointing out gaming’s psychological tactics and obscure cultural norms here and there, trying to get those who may be imbibing the kool-aid a little too deep to at least notice what flavor it is. But this here corner of the internet is about gaming and the celebration of the artform! To that end, I can’t make *every* post thought provoking, there has to be a wave of fluff, too. So, let me tell you about my latest gaming habits!

I’ve found myself lately pulled back into the comforting arms of nostalgia, a gaming haven I head to periodically which I love. Using a new system I’ve devised to make headway into my backlog, which has been working nicely, the RNG gods have decided the game I am to play is Ultima Underworld. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Ultima Underworld

Goldthirst, huh? I wonder what motivates this dude…

 

This comes at an great time. We are currently going through a wave of resurgence of all things Ultima. Broadsword picked up the license of Ultima Online and has been running with the 17 year old game, Shroud of the Avatar is coming along nicely picking up a dedicated community as it keeps moving in development, and still in the funding stage of it’s Kickstarter, Underworld Ascendant, a rework of Underworld, is ~ 80% funded with 2 weeks yet to go.

Ultima Underworld itself, though, is one of the cornerstones of gaming as we know it. Almost 23 years old, Releasing in 1992, it is noted to be the first role-playing game to feature first-person action in a 3D environment. One of the real OGs of gaming here. Paul Neurath, Underworld’s designer, when asked in an interview said I brought an early Underworld demo to the West Coast to show some folks, including developer friends. I recall how their jaws dropped wide as they watched the demo. You could see in their eyes that the gaming world had shifted. It even released before Wolfenstein 3D, and many shooters and RPGs to follow credited Underworld as an influence: Bioshock, Gears of War, The Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, Half-Life, Tomb Raider, System Shock, and pretty much any game that lets your character move around in a 3D environment.

Ultima Underworld, Level 1 Map

For 1992 the addition of a player-annotated in-game map is mind blowing.

 

So how does it hold up? After a few hours, pretty dang well. Lighting, food and hunger mechanics, platform jumping, swimming, melee and ranged combat, magic, hiding, faction-based NPCs, thieving, trading and reputation, armor and weapon degradation, sandbox style gameplay, and an in-game map with the ability to add player-created notes. The only parts that don’t really hold up are the music, with a midi track that Dosbox has a hard time translating, and the main plot, so far relying on the outdated trope of “rescue the princess”. These can be forgiven, though. The game is old enough to buy itself a drink and times have certainly changed. Remember Troll dolls? They were at their height of popularity in 1992! That voice acting, though.

Ultima Underworld, Hagbard

Apparently everyone saw this girl but nobody decided to do anything. Well, it’s not like they throw the *nice* people into the Abyss.

 

We’ll see how far I get. These jawns weren’t known to be the quick jaunts of today. Taking weeks to complete was a serious badge of honor back then. However, I’ve already made it past any previous attempt, and I’ve already learned a whole bunch of new things (there’s a resurrection mechanic! I never knew that!).

Onwards, my friends, into the Stygian Abyss!

//Ocho

So what are *you* playing? Anything interesting?

If You Give Me A Free Option, I’ll Take It

Star Trek Online, Bathroom, Refresher

We are gamers. As gamers, overcoming challenges is kind of our primary thing. Any challenge, especially in the digital space, will be conquered. Speed runs through games where the developers want us to take our time? It’ll be done. Collect every single little collectible? Oh, definitely. Playing every single race/character combination? Of course. Replaying a game multiple time just to see every single possible ending? Par for the course. So if you dangle a carrot in front of us, and then tell us that, oh hey, there’s a way to acquire this carrot just by playing the game? Well bring it on.

The problem is, though, that we are in the Age of Free to Play. On one side you have the staunch Old Guard, banging on their drum of subscription, singing that one monthly fee gives them every single thing in the game and that the only advantage comes from your own drive, the challenges are badges of pride. On the other, you have the New Blood, those born into microtransactions, those that will flit from game to game wherever the crowd of public opinion takes them. “Everyone is playing this latest indie craze?! Then I have to play it, too!” To them, a subscription just doesn’t make sense. Why pay monthly for a game that they’ll be done with in a week? The market is changing to new demands, and so tries to cater to both.  But both sides have heavy influence. The Old Guard brings with it disposable income. The New Blood, their ample numbers and time. Their mixture brought about Free To Play.

Guild Wars 2, Plant Dragons

Dragons, dragons everywhere!

 

Though personally  I will wander from game to game and I do not find value in time-based subscriptions, my playstyle is steadfast that of the Old Guard. As such, I find myself torn whenever these MMOs offer ways of attaining store items through in-game methods. Neverwinter, Guild Wars 2, and Star Trek Online, for example, have ways of exchanging in-game acquired currency for store points. Wildstar and EvE Online have methods of exchanging in-game currency for subscription time. Lord of the Rings Online gives you store currency for performing achievements, and many other examples.

If you give me a method of playing your game for free, well then buy-gum I’m going to do so, not because I’m cheap, but just because the challenge was thrown down. For example, over the past two months, Star Trek Online has given away two Tier 6 ships, the Breen Sarr Theln Carrier and the Kobali Samsar Cruiser, with just quick daily mission requirements to get each, though you could use Lobi, the consolation lockbox credit, to buy them as well. For the Carrier, it was 25 days of the winter event foot race; for the cruiser, the anniversary mission and 15 days of Omega fragment hunting. I have prevailed and have both of the ships in my inventory! Challenge completed! But man, that much logging in, for those quick little events? The fun wore off quickly. So I have the ships, still in their boxes, and no desire to open them. The events burned me out.

If not for STO’s Lifetime subscription, I honestly probably wouldn’t even be playing. I would want to get everything for free by grinding for it, exchanging dilithium for store credits, just because the option is there. But that option is such a long grind that it numbs me to the game itself. It numbs me even with my lifetime!

This is why I haven’t put that much time in Neverwinter. Get a fantastic steed by just exchanging gems for store points, and grind ages for the gems, a never ending grind. Same with Lord of the Rings Online. I found myself in the early levels waiting and fighting other players for mosquito spawns just to complete a slayer challenge for store points. It’s not fun, but give me the option and playing any other way feels like cheating, and I pride myself on not cheating.

Neverwinter, Gelatinous Cube

Come at me, cube!

 

This is where being caught in the middle of the Old Guard and New Blood really sucks.  The Old Guard would just stick with one game, pay their sub and be happy. Grinds don’t bother them so much as it’s like other games don’t even exist, and their sub covers a lot of ground. The New Blood is cool with the little cheats. They get really upset at nerfs, they’re cool with the exploits that allow them to grind experience much faster than they should, the easy build guides, the experience boosters, all because they’re just moving on to another game soon anyway.

It’s a harsh realization when the games you enjoy playing have stopped catering to your specific playstyle. You feel like it’s passing you by. But then they offer another challenge, with a mighty fine carrot dangling on the end of the string again…

They know us so well.

//Ocho